The Holy Trinity of SEO, Branding, and Web Design
Image Credit: DeviantArt
A website is the face of your brand. This being the case, it’s important to put your best foot forward. That means an attractive site, which in turn means a well thought out design. Of course, you might have the most gorgeous website in existence, but without a workable SEO strategy no one’s likely to see it.
Thus for a brand to be successful, it must have two irreplaceable elements going for it:
- An attractive, usable design that resonates with customers
- An effective Search Engine Optimization strategy which brings about the exposure required for success.
The interesting thing is, these aren’t really separate concerns. Quite the contrary, each of these three points is inextricably linked to the other two. A holy trinity of digital enterprise, as it were. Without good design, branding falls flat. Without SEO, no one can see either the brand or the design. And without branding, what exactly are we designing and/or presenting to search engines?
Today we’ll evaluate the bonds that these three topics share. We’ll take a look at how they’re connected and what should be done to integrate all three into a seamless online entrepreneurial venture.
Web design and Branding
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Traditional branding practices are well known and for the most part absolute. Simplicity, relatability, credibility, authority, and consistency. All qualities a brand should convey to their customers. The vehicle through which this is accomplished is divided into two parts. One is service. The other is design.
Service is the actual product that a brand produces or provides. While design is the overall look and experience that goes along with the service, no one is likely to give any brand the time of day if the service they provide is substandard. So the primary concern of most brands is to provide something of worth to the general public.
Unfortunately, that often leaves design and experience out in the cold. A poorly designed brand is just as likely to fail as one without a decent service offering. That’s because people aren’t likely to give a brand a chance if they don’t make a good first impression. These days, the first impression a customer has of your brand is going to occur when they browse your website.
As mentioned in the introduction, the face of a modern brand is its website. A website is the first thing a consumer will interact with that represents your brand in any sort of depth. It’s the space where your customers can build a level of familiarity, comfort, and eventual loyalty to your brand. These steps only come as a result of three distinct factors.
- Visceral appeal – the immediate, unconscious, and emotional reactions that your web design elicits from the user.
- User Experience – the way that content and engagement are served to your users as they interact with your website.
- Consistency – a continuous and extended positive experience whenever a user encounters an interaction with your brand.
In meeting these requirements when trying to form positive associations between your brand and your users, few things matter more than a first impression. According to the Neilson Norman Group, it takes an average of 10 seconds or less for a user to form an opinion about your website. That means you have a very limited time to make a positive impact on the way your brand is perceived.
This is why visceral appeal (and consequently an attractive web design) is so important. Because it has an impact on your credibility. If you can draw your website visitors in with powerful imagery, attractive layouts, endearing and attractive content—all immediately perceptible—then you’ll have a much better chance at turning said visitor into a conversion, or better yet, a repeat customer.
Design Factors That Impact Credibility
So the question becomes: what design features are important to a first impression? And to take it a step further: after that first impression is formed, what other design factors can be used to capitalize on the good will you’ve built up?
You’ve got to give your users something to look at that engages the imagination. You want to use images that excite and intrigue. This is done often with high quality photos that are properly composed, sized, exposed, and contrasted. Basically, large photographs that are intelligently placed within a design around subtly juxtaposing elements such as text or whitespace, but most importantly, that are also relevant to the service or product your brand is offering are what most users prefer.
Speaking of whitespace, there’s a reason it’s become such an “it” factor in recent years. By keeping the space around objects or elements that a design should emphasize, they become highlighted. Whitespace helps draw the eye toward the element that it surrounds. This gives a user a clear indication of what they should be looking at and helps them navigate through the website more easily.
People fear change. They like routine, and seeing prototypical design elements, of which they may not even consciously be aware, helps to put their mind at ease. Moreover it helps them make positive associations with a brand due to previous interactions they’ve had with other websites that used the same design elements.
If you manage to keep users interested in your design for more than ten seconds, then it will be up to the UX element of the site’s design to build good faith between your brand and the user. The UX is made up of various microinteractions between user and design. The goal of each of these microinteractions is to move users along a predetermined navigation flow to their final goal, which, if properly designed should align with your goals for your brand as well.
It bears repeating: branded materials should always be consistent in logo placement, color scheme, attitude, and messaging. Whatever branded marketing your business produces, it should always have consistent branding. The colors should be the same (though minimal variations to break up monotony are acceptable) on your emails as they are on your website and print materials.
The logo should always be present as well. And most importantly, your “brand voice” needs to stay consistent. The way you speak to your customers shouldn’t vary a great deal. You’d never expect McDonald’s to suddenly tell their customers they can’t have it their way any longer. Likewise, you should keep consistent with the way you approach your users.
Consistency will also help you in the other subject in question: SEO
Web Design and SEO
Image Credit: Pixabay
Beyond being consistent in look and attitude, a brand must also be consistently visible and easy to locate. That means SEO is more than essential to branding. More specifically, consistency is required in SEO for several factors:
- Consistently diligent attention to detail must be paid when it comes to keyword optimization and on-page SEO
- Modern search optimized sites must always be responsive
- New content must be frequently and continuously added to a website
- Duplicate content must consistently be removed
- External links must be consistently sought
- Interlinking must consistently be prioritized when authoring new content.
The whole SEO process is one that has to be endlessly updated, addressed and adjusted in order to remain effective. One interesting point of intersection is the fact that you can build your SEO into your web design. In fact, it’s essential that you do so. Let’s take a moment to examine how that’s done exactly.
Clean code is a necessity for SEO architecture, and this can be problematic for sites that are design-heavy, as visual elements can be difficult to code efficiently. This once again brings the emphasis back to simplicity. One thing you can do when developing your site is to code it in HTML5 which is extremely SEO-friendly.
The way you classify and separate your content is also important to both SEO and your overall web design. Content should be structured to answer questions, or more specifically, search queries. Think about the questions your users want answered when crafting new content, and categorize them according to the themes/topics that they cover. Further organize these pieces of content into a silo structure.
The next thing that should really be consistent if you want to maximize your search traffic is a commitment to Responsive Web Design. RWD refers to a design technique which makes your designs respond to the type of device being used to view them. That means mobile devices like tablets and smartphones, which people use in abundance, will all be able to view your site in such a way that doesn’t sacrifice any of its visual appeal.
This is especially important considering the massive increase in the number and popularity of mobile devices. It’s interesting to note that more people are browsing with mobile devices now than they are with desktops. It’s therefore vital that your website be mobile-compatible. If it’s not, then you’re missing out on a massive amount of traffic.
The most SEO-friendly form of mobile compatibility is unquestionably RWD. On the other hand, M.dot sites, redirects, and all the rest slow down your load times. Most users are very impatient with that sort of thing.
If more than 5 seconds go by while your page is loading, the vast majority of your traffic is going to bounce before they even land on the page. Beyond that, a single code set is far easier for search spiders to browse through, and that means they have less trouble indexing a responsive site.
Finally, as it relates to branding, responsive websites add far more to your credibility than other mobile solutions. In fact, 67% of shoppers in a survey collated by Ironpaper.com were more likely to purchase from an ecommerce site with a responsive design. Meanwhile, 62% of the companies surveyed reported that a responsive design increased sales.
To put it succinctly, a website that renders attractively across multiple platforms is a major sign of both brand authority and credibility. To learn more about implementing RWD for yourself, check out the following resources:
The topic of branding covers a lot of territory. Under this umbrella you can include elements of design and SEO, usability, user experience, and a plethora of other tech space buzzwords. The important thing to remember, however, is that it’s more than the sum of its parts.
When you combine well-defined computer science in SEO and front end coding with subjective design choices (even those based on behavioral data) you can end up with something which transcends both. A relationship between user and brand that provides equal value in exchange. This is the ideal, and while it doesn’t always turn out perfectly, it’s definitely something to strive for.
Did I miss anything? Would you like to add to the discussion? By all means, sound off in the comments.